Film Fever: Metro Manila Film Festival 2016 (Part 1)

Film Fever is a special section allotted for film festivals. In this edition, the movies for consideration are the entries currently (and miraculously) shown in the Metro Manila Film Festival (MMFF) 2016. Below are the capsule reviews on my first batch of films, in no particular order:

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DIE BEAUTIFUL

It would be naive to assume that Jun Robles Lana’s dramedy will be painted as an artificially colored portrait of one transgender woman’s life story. After all, the third sex is often side-lined and reduced into a comedic supporting role (as remarked by another MMFF entry). But DIE BEAUTIFUL not only captures the honesty of the lives that Trisha (Paolo Ballesteros) represents, but also the beauty and ugliness in humanity. The humor and joy are balanced with pain and tragedy as Trisha leads a life of an unwanted son, adoring friend, devoted lover, and caring mother while doggedly pursuing her ambition of becoming a beauty queen. The sympathetic character study unravels in a non-linear manner that transpires during Trisha’s seven-day wake, offering an intimate and unflinching look in her short existence. Beyond his popular “make-up transformations”, Ballesteros delivered a convincing and winning portrayal as a transgender that named him Best Actor in the 29th Tokyo International Film Festival. Rookie actor Christian Bables deserves a supporting nod for his naturally wonderful turn as Barbs, Trisha’s loyal best friend. Their easy rapport and the close-knit nature of fellow transgender women (and gay men) anchor the film’s upbeat attitude despite the revealing title. Writer-director Lana chose substance over style in terms of translating the narrative onscreen that can become dragging sometimes, perhaps a statement on the unflattering conditions that Trisha attempts to glamorize through her BeauCon (beauty contest) endeavors. A touch of flair is instead manifested on the beautiful personalities that Trisha wears inside her casket that signify fragments of her identity. DIE BEAUTIFUL is both sensational and sad, considering the publicized injustices that the local LGBT community experiences. Yet the film does not end in despair as it sends a universal message of acceptance and understanding – one that defines a person not based on his/her gender but in a meaningfully led life.

Rating: 3.0/4.0

 

SEKLUSYON

To say that it replaced the Shake, Rattle and Roll franchise as the lone horror entry is an injustice to describe Director Erik Matti’s follow-up to Honor Thy Father. Devoid of shallow scares and cheap orchestrations, SEKLUSYON conjures a palpable atmospheric terror that creeps into one’s sense of faith rocked by the demon made flesh. Among the horror sub-genres (witchcraft, home invasion, paranormal, torture porn, etc.), it is the one influenced by religion that I am most fascinated about, mainly because of the two facets of fear channeled in the spiritual affiliations of good and evil. In his return to the genre since the anthology ABCs of Death 2 (2014), Matti splices a layered depiction of fear that oscillates from the deacons’ transgressions haunting them during their seven-day seclusion, to the malevolence of false prophets that an investigating priest (Neil Ryan Sese) discovers. These two story-lines converge to reveal the malicious entity in the form of a young girl, Anghela (Rhed Bustamante) who bears miraculous powers that oozes from her through an eerie black liquid. While Anghela’s origin is left ambiguous and her connection with one of the deacons (Ronnie Alonte) required more plausibility (a few of the frustrating loose ends in the film), SEKLUSYON seizes viewers on the ill possibility of people abandoning a god who is silent, lethargic and indifferent to a deity of easy comfort and flowery promises in exchange of corrupting one’s faith. Set in a post-World War II locale, the horror feature is an alternate view on the escapism in false religion (this time engaging the devil) that the director earlier explored in his aforementioned modern revenge drama. Similar to the noir-inspired aesthetic of On the Job (2013), the chilling ambiance is fostered in candle-lit corners and darkened rooms that accentuates the anxiety in solitude. But the real scares are carried by Bustamante who outshines her older co-actors with her grave presence that alarms attention (and merits an acting nod). It had been a long while when a child has been cultivated in the hands of evil (tracing back to The Omen series). Bustamante is up for the challenge, and indeed she made herself memorable both onscreen and in dreams. SEKLUSYON is a genuine Philippine horror piece that utilizes acting, story and mood in stirring natural fear. It speaks of the vulnerability of the human mind and soul, and the powerlessness from evil. How can then the devil be stopped if it is already guised in sheep’s clothing? In the film’s unsettling finish, you cannot.

Rating: 3.5/4.0

 

SAVING SALLY

When Marty (Enzo Marcos) met Sally (Rhian Ramos) back in their high school days, they became inseparable. And just like the tales of friendship that prospered into courtship, their destination to romance was long time coming. Self-aware of its typical love story, SAVING SALLY greatly relies on visual spectacle to a charming and refreshing result. Director Avid Liongren’s passion project of more than 10 years is the most technically inventive entry in this year’s film fest – a quirky live-action that taps into the inner romantic and is never ashamed to show one’s individuality. As an aspiring artist, Marty’s imagination has become the viewer’s perception of reality; in his world, only the significant people are perceived as actual humans while the others are made alive as 2D monsters. Yet the film’s animated backdrops and Sally’s inventions are real, thanks to the ingenious technology that breaks away from the conventional romance onscreen. Every scene is a delight to watch as each is executed with a playful air of unpredictability, not knowing where the strokes of animation will lead you. Though not perfect, SAVING SALLY is a technical and artistic feat in local film-making that viewers must give a chance. Underneath the style is a coming-of-age story burgeoning of youthful aspirations, cathartic self-expression and genuine uniqueness. But while the film veers away from mainstream lore, it settles to the cinematic trope of a ‘damsel in distress’ in what could have been a chance to subvert the genre. Mostly told in the male perspective, SAVING SALLY misses the opportunity in empowering its titular character. As a self-described artist, mercenary, and inventor, Sally has the makings of an independent and strong female persona who has the necessary arsenals to save herself. It’s a plot twist that could have made the film a bolder embodiment of its comic book milieu. At least Liongren does not resort to having Marty wear a cheesy cape.

Rating: 2.5/4.0

 

ANG BABAE SA SEPTIC TANK 2 #ForeverIsNotEnough

After poking fun at indie film-makers’ desperate and obsessive attempts to create an internationally recognized cinematic masterpiece, the acerbic and irreverent ANG BABAE SA SEPTIC TANK returns, this time to release an armory of mockery in the so-called ‘mainstream treatment’ on the silver screen. The creative team of director Rainier (Kean Cipriano), line producer Jocelyn (Cai Cortez promoted to a speaking role) and production assistant Lennon (Khalil Ramos whose sole dialogue is the only sound during the climactic scene) once again enlists Eugene Domingo (in a fictionalized version of herself) for Rainier’s newest independent feature. Loosely adapted on the director’s marital life, The Itinerary follows the desolate dissolution of Romina (Domingo) and Cezar’s (Joel Torre) marriage. But Rainier’s cinematic vision is distorted as Ms. Eugene proffers her artistically ruining suggestions that mirror the sugar-coated gimmicks big film studios deploy. These include recasting the aged Torre for a younger love interest, adding unnecessary supporting roles such as Romina’s best friend and parents, inserting gratuitous musical and visual backgrounds, and even enunciating a confounding quote that is lacking of substance. The second satirical installment of writer-and-director duo Chris Martinez and Marlon Rivera, respectively, tickle in its observation of the ‘mainstream’ formula that has long been the DNA of contemporary romance. Whether the industry would actually revamp its romantic storytelling is beyond the film’s agenda. What is unexpected, however, is how it becomes a parley between a mainstream abolitionist and an artist desiring to cross-over to commercial heights. Ms. Eugene is correct in saying that cinema is a form of vibrant escapism; yet she, along with the film-makes of similar motives, is wrong to belittle the cinematic taste and intelligence of their viewers. There could not have been a more opportune time for ANG BABAE SA SEPTIC TANK 2 to grace the silver screen; its relevance trumping over other unwarranted franchises that failed to secure a slot in this year’s MMFF. Though it lacked the thematic subtlety and the buoyant camaraderie of Cipriano and JM de Guzman from the original, the sequel still spurs of ridiculous parody self-deprecatingly played by Jericho Rosales and Joyce Bernal. Unsurprisingly, the primadonna once again gets what she wants, but not without the special participation of karma that crashes towards her in the series’ signature close.

Rating: 3.0/4.0

Film Diary: Y Tu Mamá También

Before hitching the Hogwarts Express to unleash the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004), acclaimed Mexican filmmaker Alfonso Cuaron returned to his motherland to direct what will then be recognized as one of world cinemas’ finest. Not only does Y TU MAMÁ TAMBIÉN (2001) sizzle and seduce on its emotional coming-of-age story, but it also serves as an allegory to the life-changing moments in both personal and national histories. An audacious and revealing road-trip, it takes viewers on an evocative (and erotic, if I may add) chronicle of desire, friendship and self-discovery that transcends with an overwhelming punch. It was wildly fun until it lasted, but the charolastras will never be the same again.

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In a lay-by that provoked the turning point of Julio (Gael Garcia Bernal) and Tenoch’s (Diego Luna) kinship, the film’s narrator describes a kind of pain the boys experienced as they witnessed and learned, respectively, of each own sexual exploits. It was also the burgeoning sensation one will feel in the closing minutes that would only make their excursion more poignant. Famous for its thematically sensual scenes, Y TU MAMÁ TAMBIÉN gently unties the tragedy that will befall among its three central characters. The narrator, serving as the cinematic omniscient presence, reveals in a painful conclusion that Julio and Tenoch will decidedly not see each other anymore. Luisa (Maribel Verdú), their Spanish acquaintance and the apple of the boys’ eyes, stayed behind to spend her last, living days (unbeknownst to them). The sober finality greatly contrasted the explicit revelry depicted throughout the film. Julio and Tenoch were introduced as blithe teenagers of differing socioeconomic backgrounds who are bonded by their expansive indulgences. Alcohol, drugs and sex are staples in their pre-adulthood life but not to the point of self-destruction. However, it pried a nasty version of their selves and triggered the dissolution of their friendship.

(L-R) Gael Garcia Bernal as Julio, Maribel Verdú as Luisa, and Diego Luna as Tenoch

Much has been said on the film’s queer undertones but there’s no denying the captivating closeness of Julio and Tenoch. At the heart of Y TU MAMÁ TAMBIÉN is the genuine portrayal of real-life friends Bernal and Luna who naturally dive into the seemingly uncomplicated and untroubled lives of their characters. The rapturously candid scenes would not have the same effect if not for the young actors’ rapport; not to mention their potent chemistry with Verdú as they travel along rural Mexico. Cuaron struck two coming-of-age stories in one stone as the changing dynamic between Julio and Tenoch took place in a period where their country is undergoing a major political shift. It is a subtle testament to the unpretentious treatment of youth, in which the world is not only about and revolves around them. The narrator proffers deeper connection of the events, people and places they encountered; some insightful and sentimental, others foreboding and melancholic. Verdú fluidly carried the emotional weight that spiralled onto Luisa as she bravely accepted her doomed fate. As a woman who has yet to enjoy the fullness of her independence, Luisa’s abrupt existence is heart-breaking yet powerful enough to stir the status quo between Julio and Tenoch.

But Luisa did not willingly want it to happen, had she known the gutting aftermath. Julio and Tenoch, both juvenile and salacious, had little foresight on the consequences of their actions. The climatic tryst is a fitting culmination in their gratifying quest of exploring one’s sexuality. Does the film suggest they could have been more than friends? Or are they just stricken by drunkenness and the hot Mexican weather? I’m more convinced on the latter, though it is worth pondering the overlapping relations that they had which made them closer more than ever. Nonetheless, it awakened a sense of modesty that became the driving force on why they grew apart.

Reaching Heaven’s Mouth

Viewers will be surprised to find out the context behind the literal translation of the film title (‘and your mother too’). But beforehand, they will be enamoured by the excellent performances of Bernal, Luna and Verdú; and the exotic beauty and culture of Mexico lensed by Cuaron’s frequent collaborator (and three-peat Academy Award winner) Emmanuel Lubezki. A particular scene stands out because of how Lubezki captured Verdú’s allure and the scorching attraction among the leads. Written by the Cuaron brothers, the film was nominated at the Oscars for Best Original Screenplay but lost to another foreign entry which I have yet to see (Talk to Her).

Y TU MAMÁ TAMBIÉN is a delectable slice of world cinema that presents its universal message in the most intimate language. It does not manifest romance nor satiate the lust; instead the film unravels the yearning for human connection. How people come and go into our lives is one of the saddest mysteries. But the more peculiar is why we let them be.

Rating: 4.5/5.0

Photos were grabbed on respective film sites.

The Shop

In the spirit of Halloween, reposting an unpublishedd short story I wrote four years ago.

(for the love of chocolates)

thenewalphabet

I remember the first time I entered Lourd’s Lucky Sweet Shop. I was young and like other kids, chocolates were simply heaven to me. While father and I were on our way to the store, I asked him why we had to go there when grandfather was already making me chocolates. Father just replied that we had to know the taste. “For business’ sake,” he said. I didn’t understand him until now that I am the new owner of my family’s sweet shop – I waited for a lifetime for a customer to bustle the wind chimes in our shop.

Villagers and tourists come to and fro the store, carrying with them bags of rich and luscious chocolates –sprinkled with frosting, made more delectable with pistachios, cashews, raisins, and berries –ready to be undressed in its golden foil and melt lustfully in their mouths. An instant taste of pleasure is…

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Awards Circle: Belated Oscars 2016 Round-up (Part 1)

I return from my (academic) hiatus with a look back at the Best Picture nominees of the 88th Academy Awards. While my top pick didn’t win the plum (if you follow me online, you know how furiously passionate I am about it), I’m still delighted at the results. I can’t promise there will be no display of bad blood here (sorry in advance The Revenant, but you deserved your Oscars anyway. Sort of.). So here’s my take, counting down from the good to the best of 2015’s so-called best, and may the ceremonies to come prove to be more worthy and inclusive!

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8. The Martian

 Acclaimed director Ridley Scott returns to sci-fi fare and probably helmed one of the genre’s rare, ‘feel-good’ films, whose rousing thoughtfulness transcends from its extra-terrestrial setting. THE MARTIAN is more than a just a survival story of the titular character (which is also the same reason why Matt Damon would feel overshadowed). It is a celebration of genius that instills admiration to the men and women dedicated to pursuing the mystery of the vast truth beyond them. Familiar sci-fi elements run in its DNA but if there’s one thing THE MARTIAN successfully achieves (as compared to let’s say, Jurassic World), it invokes the natural sense of wonder and dread in space, and hope in humanity. Film-wise, THE MARTIAN is easily accessible thanks to the buoyant tone of Mark Watney’s (Damon) predicament. While his deadpan demeanour in lowering oxygen and supply levels makes him affable, it is his resilience that would make viewers root for him as he uproot himself from the red planet. Supporting characters orbiting Watney’s rescue mission seemed underutilized, but it was refreshing to see a strong female perspective in Jessica Chastain’s commander-at-large. In the end, my praises for the movie would be directed to the real astronauts and scientists, which I used to want to become when I was a child. (And I must admit on having fleeting memories of the superb Moon while watching). But the whole of THE MARTIAN does feel it serves a greater purpose – inspiring (not just promising young intellectuals) to believe in the impossible.

Rating: 3.0/5.0

 

7. The Big Short

The eventual Best Adapted Screenplay winner could be described as a testosterone-filled tableau about the ‘winners’ of the 2008 global financial crisis. Comedy-drama THE BIG SHORT boasts of Hollywood’s A-listers who re-enact the gamble of their Wall Street-counterparts as they hedge against the impending credit crunch. Among the eight Best Picture nominees, it is the most informative and factual (with respect to Spotlight), made attuned for mainstream viewing through Adam McKay‘s crisp direction and rapid interplay that webs the ensemble’s storylines. Smooth-talking Ryan Gosling as a Deutsche Bank dealer is convincing while Brad Pitt keeps the movie interesting by playing a retired trader aiding two green capitalists. The financial implosion would not feel cathartic if not for Christian Bale’s manic spiritual animal as the brilliant hedge fund manager who first recognized the collapse of mortgage-backed securities. Guest stars keep the viewers abreast of the concepts popping out and their appearances are amusing, if not a diversion from the real-life occurrence of such global disaster. Personally, I associate myself with Steve Carell’s grouchiness towards his profession. Turns out that in the end, we have something in common: we are both out from the market.

Rating: 3.0/5.0

 

6. The Revenant

I wasn’t surprised when THE REVENANT received its fair share of acclaim and criticism. The film that finally earned Leonardo DiCaprio his first Best Actor trophy had admirably immersed viewers in the breath-taking yet perilous wilderness whose natural beauty is impeccably captured by three-peat cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki. Director Alejandro Inarritu indulges on another masterful attempt towards perfection, this time through a man’s undying strength and unbreakable spirit (a virtuous subject as compared to the relentless ego of Birdman). As the titular character, DiCaprio’s commitment to the role was Herculean in his undaunted quest for survival and revenge. THE REVENANT delivered one of cinema’s rawest adventures but amidst the grit and gloss, I am left underwhelmed by the meat of the story. The film relies heavily on flashbacks to unearth Hugo Glass’ motivations that felt more of a forced intermission than an organic backstory. The running time is as laborious as the trek of Glass’ party back to the fort. But if there’s one thing that I’d call out for, is the lack of emotional potency from ogling the viciousness of man, animal and nature which impedes whatever thematic relevance remains in the story. THE REVENANT is no doubt, a tour de force of its three important elements and it would be unfair to pertain to it as a gloating project with Oscar ambitions (which it has achieved). But to say the least, I prefer the parts than the whole itself.

Rating: 3.5/5.0

 

5. Bridge of Spies

The prolific partnership of Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg reliably brought to life the good old glamor of period spyware in BRIDGE OF SPIES, remarkably understated and grounded despite being helmed by Hollywood’s heavyweights. That isn’t to say that the thriller, about an American lawyer (Hanks) who arranges a tense prisoner exchange, is slow-burner that fizzles until the climactic scene foreboded by the title. Written by Joel and Ethan Cohen, BRIDGE OF SPIES unravels the unique humanity of the situation channeled through James Donovan whose compassion, perceptiveness and professionalism were his weapons in thorny geopolitical negotiations and public persecution. Hanks finely embodied an ‘everyday’ man who committed himself to an extraordinary cause – a nuanced portrayal not quite resonated by Matt Damon in The Martian (just my opinion). But the film’s MVP (featuring one of 2015’s best performances) is Mark Rylance who won Best Supporting Actor as the wry and translucent Soviet spy. Rylance radiates a beguiling charm in Abel’s pensiveness and resignation that serves as the ying to Donovan’s determined yang. BRIDGE OF SPIES does not lose sight of its grim reality nor underplays the bitter aftertaste of war, but Donovan lulling back to his abode is a peaceful close that will usher the small victories (that he will be known for) to come.

Rating: 3.5/5.0

 

Up next: The better half puts women on the spotlight.

And my Oscar goes to… (2016 edition)

It’s the time of the year again! One of the surprises that came out late is that there is actually a race. Not a twosome showdown like 2014’s Gravity vs. 12 Years a Slave, nor 2015’s duel of the B’s: Birdman vs. Boyhood. Guild, critic and press awards are building towards diversified winners but in fact, there is one clear Best Picture. I’ve been rallying for it ever since seeing it last May (and if you’re following my Twitter account, you’ve probably been exhausted reading about it unless you agree). Have I been correct on my Oscar predictions? Yes and no. Basically, this list wraps up who I think are deserving to win. Again, here’s wishing for 2017 to be a better Oscar year for the rightful films.

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Best Sound Editing: Mad Max: Fury Road 

Best Sound Mixing: If Mad Max: Fury Road‘s battle cry of the guitar-thrashing war boy doesn’t win an Oscar — not only was it bizarre; it was the perfect accompaniment for the craziest and electrifying cinematic car chase ever — then I don’t know anymore.

Best Makeup and Hairstyling: From Charlize Theron’s smoky and revering eyes to the grotesque villains led by Immortan Joe, every physical detail of the characters in Mad Max: Fury Road has a story to tell. And they are just simply one-of-a-kind.

Best Visual Effects: I’m glad to see Ex Machina be nominated along with the heavy-weights, but it wouldn’t likely win. The Revenant winning for that bear-maul scene is both a joke and a shocker while The Martian‘s VFX is no match against fellow sci-fi Gravity. Press for Mad Max: Fury Road had talked more about the crew’s resourcefulness and ingenuity than for visual effects. In the end, the technological update accomplished in Star Wars: The Force Awakens gets my vote.

Best Original Song: Probably “Til It Happens To You” by Diana Ross and Lady Gaga from the documentary, The Hunting Ground. “The Writings on the Wall” is a mediocre Bond theme (sorry, Sam Smith; it wasn’t a worthy follow-up to Adele’s Oscar-winning “Skyfall”). And it’s the year of the Gaga.

Best Original Score: John Williams’ iconic score for Star Wars is nominated, again. Perhaps the Academy should award someone else? How about The Hateful Eight? I heard it was good (but wasn’t able to see it yet).

Best Costume Design: Mad Max: Fury Road

Best Production Design: Mad Max: Fury Road (God was the production designer for The Revenant. Amen.)

Best Film Editing: The playfulness in The Big Short‘s story-telling is lend by its uncanny editing but the magic of this technical element is best displayed in Mad Max: Fury Road. The car chase throughout the film was never a bore; in fact, it’s the adrenaline-filled interplay of action, thrill and suspense that made me so alive.  

Best Cinematography: While I had locked this category for Mad Max: Fury Road, Emmanuel Lubezki’s work in The Revenant was so admirable that he deserves a back-to-back-to-back Oscar. It’s probably the only legit part that I like about the film.

Best Documentary FeatureAmy

Best Foreign Language Film: Son of Saul (Hungary)

Best Animated Feature: Inside Out

Best Adapted Screenplay: If the Academy is daring enough, it’d pick Room which is my second choice. But it would probably go to WGA winner, The Big Short.

Best Original Screenplay: Nice to see Ex Machina and Inside Out land nominations but I’m all for Spotlight.

Best Supporting Actress: Isn’t it sweet to have Leo and Kate Winslet win in the same year? But I’m going for my girl Alicia Vikander in The Danish Girl.

Best Supporting Actor: Sylvester Stalone‘s return as Rocky Balboa in Creed could sway a sentimental vote. The neurologist-fund manager with an artificial eye and Asperger syndrome that Christian Bale becomes for The Big Short comes as second. I still wished Jacob Tremblay was nominated; he was the heart of Room.

Best Actress: Congratulations to one of the youngest Best Actress winners, Brie Larson for Room! The edginess and vulnerability she display creep under the skin that her portrayal of ‘Ma’ is unnerving to the point of frustration. But knowing what her character had gone through, she deserves it. (Still, my heart goes to Saoirse Ronan who tugged my heartstrings in Brooklyn).

Best Actor: He knows it. He can feel it. It’s a long time coming for Leonardo DiCaprio whose committed performance in The Revenant is… Okay, he deserves to win with respective to his fellow nominees but we can agree that this is not his best performance of his career. Right?

Best Director: All the way for George Miller who is the true visionary for Mad Max: Fury Road.

Best Picture: I can’t say which film had done this before but for the past years, the eventual Best Picture winner also won a Screenplay award. In that case, the Oscar odds are in favor of The Big Short and Spotlight. BUT a win for Alejandro Innaritu as Best Director (after receiving the DGA award) locks the plum prize for The Revenant which is not nominated in the Adapted Screenplay category (see the conundrum?). Nevertheless, as I stay true to which film should win, my Best Picture goes to 2015’s extraordinary masterpiece, Mad Max: Fury Road.

 

 

P.S.

I’m more likely wrong on the supporting actor categories but I’m counting on Mad Max: Fury Road to earn the most number of Oscar wins while The Revenant to spoil the night 😛

Film Diary: Honor Thy Father

The titular fourth commandment (less the maternal figure) induces an ominous presence in Director Erik Matti’s latest dramatic thriller. The trailer, after all, glimpses on the misguided (and possibly corrupted) spirituality that surrounds John Lloyd Cruz’s character. But while the fictitious sect – the Church of Yeshua Our Savior (CYOS) is the film’s direct religious reference, this god (or any other deity) has no place in this bleakly toned, excellently executed, and subtly compelling film whose only struggle, unfortunately, is the receding commercial release. It was a rare pleasure to see an anti-hero unravel onscreen (and for Cruz to become one). And while the film can be borderline unapologetic that does not aim to please, HONOR THY FATHER is an extraordinary gift the Filipino cinephile has yearned for.

When his wife, Kaye (Meryl Soriano), was embroiled in estafa that cascaded upon the death of her father, Edgar (Cruz) is forced to revert to his ‘old ways’ to secure the means to protect his family. Whether or not he succeeds is left to the viewer’s interpretation. But the message is clear. While the violent On the Job slithered towards an unanticipated yet emancipating conscience among its tragic personas, Matti’s HONOR THY FATHER fosters a vicious society where the degrees of wrongness are a natural way of life. A religion with suspicious mechanisms, fervent yet ferocious parishioners and a family of criminals populate a reality that transcends from the reel. What is astonishing to see is how the different acts of wickedness play against each other and, along with the moody stylishness, conjure an atmospheric critic of irrational devotion and a despairing tale of a father’s love. There are no good people in HONOR THY FATHER, but it does not necessarily abandon the humanity of its characters.

Unmoved by Yeshua.

The film becomes a rightful medium for Cruz to channel physical commitment and emotional rage that are confined by romantic dramas he was saturated into. As Edgar, Cruz transforms into his most harrowing but equally emphatic role that requires grit and gutsiness. The wide-eyed actor communicates through his evocative vision; those lingering, straying, hollow and intense looks of a man who has seen but chose not to question until ultimately, he recoils with an answer to the people who wronged his family, including the church that tested his forbearance. Among the supporting cast, Soriano is most remarkable during the final minutes (followed by Kaye’s bathroom breakdown) while Tirso Cruz III as the revered CYOS bishop is both chilling and unscrupulous. Their characters are awakened, blinded and stupefied by a faith of disputable integrity. HONOR THY FATHER is more than the exploration of religious exploitation but the existence of amorality that ranges from a girl’s stabbing of her classmate (to the eye) to a brotherly-undertaken, elaborate underground heist. The faces of vigilante justice are unsettling but they become an accepted consequences in the cruel chain of survival.

Matti and company curated a more polished handiwork in HONOR THY FATHER, whose cinematic appearance of toned milieus adapts to the temperament of the prevailing situation. More noticeable is the subtle use of the locations, not as a picturesque interlude, but as an omniscient backdrop. The ambiance is heavy (but bearable) of silent fury, despair and mystery — the last which some might grapple due to the deliberate lack of dialogue. But the economic use of exposition complements the clandestine nature of Edgar’s mission. The characters are fleshed out by their defining actions, not through flooded elucidation.When words are dispensable, the quiet moments work through mutual understanding that can be murky or enlightening, depending on the viewer. This is a film that offers a ruminative experience based on the unpleasantness of man, but it is still possible to sympathize since such fallibility only make them more human.

‘Yeshua will provide.’ But does he?

The six million peso question is, who is the father referred in the title originally called “Con-man” (that would have been a takeaway about Edgar’s identity)? The religious roots aside, HONOR THY FATHER chronicles what a father is willing to accomplish for his love of family, albeit a criminal methodology. Edgar and his accomplices are efficient but the futility of their actions dangled with uncertainty while the worshipers’ divine imploration rang hollow. Maybe this is Matti’s way of telling a tragedy which is grimmer than On The Job. No god or blood money can save them. Their motivations do not justify the inflicted consequences. Nothing good can be borne out of evil. Only something bigger than the characters and their personal beliefs can determine their fate. The ending is bleak and everyone is identifiable on a spectrum of badness, but the outcome unfolding beautifully is a sight to behold. The crime drama-thriller lives up to its name, after all: it is something quite honorable.

Rating: 4.0/5.0

Capsule Review: Locke, Kingsman: The Secret Service, Hitman: Agent 47

For this latest entry (which is pretty late), I assembled a trio of testosterone-led films that I’d be arguing about. The first two movies are quite divisive while the last is ultimately dismissive (sorry friend). Don’t get me wrong about Locke; it showcased the dramatic sensitivity underneath Tom Hardy‘s foreboding masculinity, but I’d rather see him unconfined and unhinged in more dynamic settings (cc: Mad Max: Fury Road). And while Kingsman was rapturously enjoyed by many, I find it to be unconscientiously gratuitous. As for Hitman: Agent 47, the suspenseful fifth season of Homeland is much more satisfying*. This set of reviews is not particularly rosy but for the sake of cinematic exploration, here are my critical thoughts.

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LOCKE (2014)

Film critics are on board in director Steve Knight‘s minimalist dramatic thriller about an accomplished family man’s doomed evening drive (where he basically lost everything he held dearly via phone calls). In this constricting yet immersive acting vehicle, Hardy occupies the driver’s seat throughout the film’s duration. LOCKE provides a powerful showcase for Hardy’s subtlety as a person whose family and working relationships were strained by a life-changing commitment. Guilty as he may be, he attempts to forge compromises among his duties as a construction manager (determinedly giving instructions to his proxy for tomorrow’s crucial delivery), a husband (contritely admitting to his wife about a brief affair) and a soon-to-be father (patiently calming the mother of his unexpected child over the phone); thus revealing a flawed yet moral character who bears accountability against the odds. Such entanglements inhabit Locke’s boxed environment but there’s no turning back at the highways of London. A sense of claustrophobia creeps in the limited framing of the film’s setting, much like the feeling of the loss of breath when one makes drastic decisions. LOCKE offers an infrequent incision to the male psyche where willpower is tested by external challenges (literally). Locke’s frustration and desperation are apparent but that does not falter his dedication as a man of honor, despite his extramarital mistake. In the end, he reaches his destination; the viewers may not know what happens to him after that eventful night but after accompanying him all through the ride, we are left assured of Locke’s fortitude that will drive him forward.

Rating: 3.0/5.0

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KINGSMAN: THE SECRET SERVICE (2015)

A pugnacious spectacle with unapologetic coolness, KINGSMAN: THE SECRET SERVICE could be the type of film fanboys are gushing for. Its arresting action sequences and glitzy spy craft lure an ephemeral entertainment with a youthful appeal, courtesy of gutsy newcomer Taron Egerton as Eggsy. But few minutes in, tossed with delirious mischief and airy sophistication, the British-American action film serves a fleeting escape from the mundane, juvenile life – made astray from a conscionable and responsible story-telling. KINGSMAN is consistent on its streak of ruthlessness that comes out as darkly comedic but numbing. While only a fictional medium, it feels disconcerting to derive amusement from violence, especially when rationality plucks viewers on the absurdity of young daredevils flirting with danger and reality taking a bite on the terrors that are bigger and more relevant than SIM card-triggered world domination. The young cast delivers on dynamic physicality, particularly Egerton and bladed hunch-woman Gazelle (Sofia Boutella). The attempt to humanize its characters (Eggsy’s canine moral decisions, Colin Firth’s sentimentality as the veteran Galahad and Samuel L. Jackson’s likes and dislikes as the main antagonist), however, do not quite resonate when the film is suited in an unrealistic facade of misguided, remorseless fun. KINGSMAN got the spunk, charisma and attitude to spawn a sequel for its new-found fans, but it lacks the sobriety in establishing why its irreverence should matter.

Rating: 2.5/5.0

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HITMAN: AGENT 47 (2015)

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The only reason why I watched HITMAN: AGENT 47 is because of Homeland‘s Rupert Friend. Without him, I do not have any regard on this unremarkable reboot. Bland characterization and dulling visual effects populate an aimless script that only goes with the flow of the purported action. Some scenic Singaporean spots and dashing Audis steal what already is the short attention span that the audience can only invest to. The dialogue, particularly, is lethargic as director Aleksander Bach attempts to compensate via kinetic sequences where Agent 47 (Friend) is made conspicuous in his signature red tie at the sea of black and white opponents. This video-game adaptation could possible stay true to its title; perhaps 45 more remakes are needed to create the ideal Hitman film. But in the cinematic landscape crowded of cold-blooded yet compelling fighters, a subpar movie that re-introduces an unimpressionable contender would be easily forgotten.

Rating: 1.5/5.0

*TV Review of Homeland Season Five will be coming up. Soon.